Interview: Peter Marshall of "The Black Tie Guide"

Peter Marshall, whose site is perhaps the most comprehensive and popular online resource for black tie attire, is unlike many men today in that he relishes the thought of getting "dressed up" for a night at the opera. He makes it look so effortless... because it really is. Prior to reading The Black Tie Guide, I had gotten snippets of education on formal attire on menswear forums, but nothing quite as definitive. Since its inception, the Guide has expanded to cover white tie and morning wear, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent. It's unfortunate that the Guide didn't exist earlier, else I could have shown up to prom in proper black tie instead of the bizarre hybrid that happened thanks to an ill-informed salesperson. In fact, it was shortly after that I realized my kit was breaking all sorts of rules and not for the better.

Peter Marshall

This only highlights a problem that the Guide sets out to solve: Where do you get an easily accessible, definitive education on what's proper when most rental places or menswear stores don't know a lick about evening wear etiquette? One of my favourite features on the blog is "Reader Role Models", which shows that any man with a living wage can look splendid in a dinner jacket, without the need for a celebrity's income or professional stylists. Indeed, that's exactly what the author pulled off in preparation for a cruise, the research of which also inspired the creation of the website. Judging by the numerous visitors, I'd like to think that at least some proms, weddings, operas, and galas have seen an increase in well turned out men.

Marshall and partner wearing "two takes on a classic".

It's interesting in that The Black Tie Guide has become a shorthand of sorts whenever anyone has questions about what is "correct" black tie on menswear forums. I've noticed on the Ask Andy About Clothes Forums in particular that one of the first replies to such a thread includes a link to the website. In fact, it's what I link my friends when they have questions about it. Unfortunately they don't always follow it, but at least I try...

What I found fascinating was that Mr. Marshall's education was reverse that of most men who set out to improve their look with classic menswear.
Prior to my formalwear research I liked to dress well but didn't often dress up in suit and ties.  I essentially learned everything about traditional menswear through my research for the Guide.  It was a lot like learning how to swim by diving into the deep end of the pool.
I was also curious what motivation his readers have gotten from Agent 007, who is probably the most famous fictional wearer of a dinner suit.
I don't know what influence the pre-Craig Bonds had on black tie because I wasn't tracking that sort of thing prior to my web site being posted the same year as Casino Royale.  I can say, though, that I have noticed a huge amount of interest in his tuxedos (especially the first one) on menswear blogs and in email sent to me by readers.  I can also say that the two most visited posts on my blog are both about James Bond.  The character's strong association with formal wear in the eyes of novices is the reason I typically frame my arguments for classic black tie in the context of how to avoid setting out to look like James Bond and ending up looking like his waiter.
Regarding modern trends, he's noticed some positive developments but had choice words about others.
I like the fact that midnight blue and pocket squares have made a comeback in formal fashion.  Other than that, the current trends are all focused on reducing the tuxedo to the level of an ordinary business suit.  Not only is this development uninspired but it may also lead to the tuxedo becoming totally redundant.  Why invest in formal wear if you can just throw on a black suit and tie? Just remembered another contemporary trend that I like: Fly-front formal shirts. It makes the outfit that much more streamlined and that much less fussy. I think it is here to stay.  (Unless of course it gets replaced by a regular dress shirt which isn't such a far-fetched concept considering the other degradations that black tie is experiencing.)
But it can't all be bad. The numbers suggest that more men are at least curious about dressing nicely than they were before.
It continually blows my mind that over 80,000 people visit the Guide every month to learn the etiquette of Victorian dining attire in this extremely informal world. I'm thankful for all the opportunities that the site has provided me, such as appearing in a front page article on the Wall Street Journal this past Saturday! It is extremely rewarding to hear from men around the world who have been motivated by the Guide to take the time to assemble a proper formal outfit instead of just settling for the first unorthodox variation they happened upon. In this extremely casual age of ours I always assume my next black-tie event will be my last.  Consequently they have been some of the most enjoyable evenings of my life.
Thanks again to Mr. Marshall for taking the time to answer my questions.


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